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Shakur Stevenson fights for first U.S. boxing gold in 12 years

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Olympic boxer Shakur Stevenson has advanced to the finals in the bantamweight division at the Rio Olympics. He was scheduled to fight Vladimir Nikitin from Russia in the semifinals, but Nikitin was unable to compete due to “injury.”

Stevenson is now guaranteed at least a silver medal. Despite the rich history of American amateur boxing, he is the first American to fight in a gold medal match since the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Nico Hernandez won a bronze medal for the U.S. last week.

There is far more to the story than a mere “injury” to Nikitin. The Russian could not fight because he was pounded for three rounds by Michael Conlan of Ireland, the reigning world champion, in the quarterfinals.

Despite Conlan’s dominance, judges somehow gave the decision to a bloodied Nikitin. Conlan did not go quietly.

After showing both of his middle fingers to the three judges seated at ringside, he offered his immediate thoughts.

“With people watching decisions like this, Olympic boxing is dead,” he said. “It’s about whoever pays the most money; whoever has the most influence.”

Conlan went on to offer comments unsuitable for audiences under 14 years of age. He also tweeted a personal message to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Hey, Vlad. How much did they charge you, bro???”

After this fight and other questionable bouts seemingly favorable to Russians, the International Boxing Association (AIBA) removed a few judges and referees, but no outcomes were changed. Too late to help Conlan.

As Stevenson prepared to meet Nikitin, concern already existed the Russian would be unable to fight due to the beating he took from Conlan. Who would expect that the winner of the fight would be damaged enough to prevent him from going on?

Robeisy Ramirez of Cuba stands in the way of gold for Stevenson. Ramirez won the gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012 in the flyweight division.

The bout takes place on Saturday.


Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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